Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

A Martian crater with a surface pattern that resembles hanging draperies

A Martian crater with a surface pattern like hanging draperies

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and enhanced to post here, was taken on January 27, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and shows what the scientists label a “streak-spoke pattern” inside the crater. To my eye, the pattern more resembles hanging draperies, neatly tied near the top and then pulled apart as they descend to the ground.

This photo was a follow-up to a previous picture by MRO on February 4, 2008, more than seven Martian years ago, to see if there had been any identifiable changes in that time. Both images were taken in springtime, and despite the passage of time, the 2023 image shows no obvious changes from the 2008 photo.

What caused this distinct pattern? The first guess would be the wind, except if so shouldn’t there have been some change over seven Martian years?
» Read more

Pushback: One doctor’s experience gives us all a ray of hope

In the three years since the beginning of what I think should be called the Wuhan panic, the civilized world was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of mindless emotional terror, resulting in a never-ending stream of terrible COVID policy decisions — from social distancing to masks to lockdowns to jab mandates — that ended up killing tens of thousands unnecessarily, while trampling on the liberties and rights that western civilization had once consider sacrosanct.

During that panic a large number of individuals, including myself and most of the conservative press, desperately tried to fight that panic with hard data, noting repeatedly that masks accomplished nothing, that social distancing was a sham, that lockdowns only destroyed lives and businesses, and that mandates of any kind (especially in connection with the COVID jab) were misguided and dangerous.

All to no avail. The power-hungry were in charge, controlling all the major branches of government as well as its health bureaucracy, and these people were eager to use COVID epidemic as a vehicle for gaining power. The fear they engendered in the general public, long used to relying on these people for accurate information, caused that public to buy into that fear, and accede to the power grab by these government officials.

Doctor Robert Lending
Doctor Robert Lending.

One person who tried mightily throughout the panic to focus solely on the data was my own doctor, Robert Lending. Each week he would issue a detailed COVID report, documenting at length the actual statistics as well as the most recent research on the best treatment methods as well as those that were failures. I have quoted his reports several times previously on Behind the Black, always with permission, because his approach was so fact-based and devoid of partisan politics. His only concern was to find the best way to treat his patients.

I have also quoted Lending repeatedly because he contrasted so starkly with my previous doctor, Charles Michieli, who when I asked his assistant in April 2020 if I could work out some accommodation for me regarding masks, as I had both health and ethical reasons for not wearing one, Michieli simply responded by sending me a letter firing me as a patient. So much for putting patients first, and doing no harm.

Lending’s own experience during the entire panic was sometimes as disturbing. Though he always treated all patients regardless of politics or their own COVID fears, his insistence on logic sometimes enraged some patients to the point that they quit his practice. For example, back in June 2020, when the George Floyd riots were occurring, he wrote the following in his twelfth update:
» Read more

Leaving Earth cover

There are now only 4 copies left of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. The price for an autographed copy of this rare collector's item is now $150 (plus $5 shipping).


To get your copy while the getting is good, please send a $155 check (which includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


Leaving Earth is also available as an inexpensive ebook!


Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, can be purchased as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.


If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big oppressive tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

A multitude of strange galaxies

A multitude of strange galaxies
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, reduced and sharpened to post here, was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released today. From the caption:

Z 229-15 is one of those interesting celestial objects that, should you choose to research it, you will find defined as several different things: sometimes as an active galactic nucleus (an AGN); sometimes as a quasar; and sometimes as a Seyfert galaxy. Which of these is Z 229-15 really? The answer is that it is all of these things all at once, because these three definitions have significant overlap.

All three classifications involve galaxies with nuclei that are brighter, more energetic, and more massive than the rest of the galaxy. Z229-15 itself is estimated to be 390 million light years away.

Normally I would have cropped the image to center on Z229-15. However, I was struck by the number of other strange galaxies in the distance and on the periphery of the picture. Near the top is a trio of three, none of which appear spiral- or elliptical-shaped. On the right is a galaxy that could be a standard spiral seen edge-on, but its red nucleus is very unusual. And scattered across the bottom half of the image are a number of weirdly shaped galaxies of all types, none of which appear typical.

Be sure to look at the high resolution original. There are more weird galaxies visible there.

Curiosity heads to the west of the Hill of Pillows

Panorama on March 27, 2023 (Sol 3781)
Click for full resolution panorama. The original images can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

In my previous post on March 11, 2023 showing Curiosity’s spectacular view at that time in the foothills of Mount Sharp, the main question was: Which route will the rover take in the next few weeks? Based on the panorama above, created from five pictures taken by Curiosity’s right navigation camera today, it now appears that the science team has made its decision and will have the rover traverse to the west of what I label the Hill of Pillows.

The overview map to the right gives the context. The blue dot marks Curiosity’s position three days ago, with the yellow lines indicating the approximate area covered by the panorama. The red dotted line shows the planned route going past the Hill of Pillows to the east.

The science team took a careful look at the terrain in both directions, and decided the route to the west was both more gradual and less rough. This set of images by the navigation camera was now taken to better plan the route up in this hollow among its rock-strewn ground.

Make sure you look at the full resolution version of the panorama. You can see on the horizon the high mesas in the south just beginning to appear.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

Are launch prices up, or is the demand continuing to be high?

According to a Space News yesterday, high demand and inflation have resulted in an overall increase in launch prices in recent months.

At the recent Satellite 2023 conference, industry officials said they saw evidence of growing prices in the last year. Growing demand along with a constrained near-term supply that some have dubbed a “global shortage” is a factor, they say, along with inflation that has remained historically high for more than a year.

The only evidence of this increase that the article presents however is a 10% increase in SpaceX’s launch price, which the company claims is almost entirely due to inflation, not demand. Furthermore, this increase still leaves SpaceX’s launch prices well below the lowest prices that other launch companies can yet offer, which means the competition can’t really raise its prices significantly.

The important take-away from the article is not that the cost of rockets has gone up, but that the demand remains very high, which bodes well for the new startups trying to enter the market. For example, the article notes that the next SpaceX smallsat launch opportunity is 2025. There thus remains plenty of business for the many new rocket companies trying to enter the market in the next two years.

Momentus reports successful use of its new water-based thrusters on its orbiting Vigoride-5 tug

The orbital tug startup Momentus on March 23, 2023 reported the successful use of its new water-based thrusters on its orbiting Vigoride-5 prototype tug, proving the design works.

The Reaction Control System operates using the same propellant and tank with water as the Vigoride spacecraft’s primary MET propulsion system. The MET is designed to use water as a propellant and produce thrust by expelling extremely hot gases through a rocket nozzle. Unlike a conventional chemical rocket engine, which creates thrust through a chemical reaction, the MET is designed to create a plasma and thrust using microwave energy. When operational, the MET will be used to raise the orbital altitude and inclination of Vigoride-5.

Essentially this is a variation of an ion engine. The thrust will be low, but very efficient. The thrusters can therefore fire for a very long time, building up accelerations infeasible for chemical engines, and thus allowing the tug to significantly change the orbits of satellites in ways that was previously impossible.

This release came out the day before NASDAQ announced that Momentus has six months to raise the price of its stock above one dollar or be delisted from the stock exchange. Since its release, the stock price rose from $0.54 to $0.63, still below a dollar but going in the right direction, despite the NASDAQ announcement.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

NASDAQ gives two more space companies delisting warning

NASDAQ yesterday told the space companies Momentus and Spire they have six months to get their stock price over $1 or the stock exchange will delist each.

Small satellite builder and data specialist Spire Global received a notice from the New York Stock Exchange, while spacecraft delivery company Momentus received a notice from the Nasdaq. Under the respective exchanges’ compliance rules, the companies have 180 days, or about six months, to get their stock prices back above $1 a share.

Spire’s stock closed at 69 cents a share on Friday, having first slipped below $1 a share on Mar. 7. Momentus’ stock closed at 63 cents a share, slipping below $1 a share on Feb. 7.

Both companies now join Astra under the same threat. Both also have indicated they will consider a reverse-stock split, combining stocks to reduce the total number in order to bring the price above one dollar.

India launches 36 OneWeb satellites

India’s space agency ISRO tonight successfully launched 36 OneWeb satellites using its LVM-M3 rocket, the largest version of its GSLV family of rockets.

This launch completes OneWeb’s constellation, with 618 satellites now in orbit, allowing them to now offer internet access worldwide in competition with Starlink. After Russia broke its contract and confiscated 36 OneWeb satellites, the company contracted SpaceX and ISRO to launch the satellites necessary to complete the constellation, with SpaceX doing three launches and ISRO two.

This was India’s second launch in 2023. The leaders in the 2023 launch race remain the same:

20 SpaceX
11 China
5 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 23 to 11 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 23 to 19. SpaceX by itself now trails the entire world, including other American companies, 20 to 22.

Ancient Martian landslides

Ancient Martian landslides
Click for original image.

Cool image time! The picture to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on December 23, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The image was labeled “Landslides in Orson Welles Crater” because the full photo shows at least two large and obvious slides, with the biggest shown to the right.

These avalanches are likely ancient because both have craters on them suggesting the material has not moved for a very long time. Yet when both flowed they did so almost like mud, the material moving downhill almost in a single blobby mass. Both have this look, as do many Martian landslides, which I think is why the scientists usually label them mass wasting events.
» Read more

The invulnerability of today’s academic blacklist culture

Tirien Steinbach: in favor of censorship and mob rule
Stanford’s Tirien Steinbach:
in favor of censorship and mob rule

They’re coming for you next: In order to best understand how difficult it will be to regain the free and open society that was once the United States, we need only look at recent events at the Stanford Law School.

On March 9, 2023 a mob of students and faculty, led by Tirien Steinbach, the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion dean, shouted down U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Kyle Duncan when he tried to give a lecture about the law for the school’s chapter of the Federalist Society.

You can watch a video of this mob action at the link, where Steinbach actually took the podium away from Duncan to order to give a speech defending the mob and agreeing with their effort to silence him.

The story has gotten ample coverage in the press, including the general reaction from outside the school. For example, in Texas and in California action has been proposed to bar the students involved from getting law licenses.

The law school itself initially responded very weakly, simply sending a letter of apology to Duncan.
» Read more

Blue Origin releases results of investigation into New Shepard flight failure

Blue Origin today released by email its results of its investigation into the New Shepard flight failure that occurred in September 2022, when the launch abort system activated soon after launch and released the capsule early so that it could return safely to Earth.

[T]he MIT [investigation team] determined the direct cause of the mishap to be a structural fatigue failure of the BE-3PM engine nozzle during powered flight. The structural fatigue was caused by operational temperatures that exceeded the expected and analyzed values of the nozzle material. Testing of the BE-3PM engine began immediately following the mishap and established that the flight configuration of the nozzle operated at hotter temperatures than previous design configurations. Forensic evaluation of the recovered nozzle fragments also showed clear evidence of thermal damage and hot streaks resulting from increased operating temperatures. The fatigue location on the flight nozzle is aligned with a persistent hot streak identified during the investigation.

The MIT determined that design changes made to the engine’s boundary layer cooling system accounted for an increase in nozzle heating and explained the hot streaks present. Blue Origin is implementing corrective actions, including design changes to the combustion chamber and operating parameters, which have reduced engine nozzle bulk and hot-streak temperatures. Additional design changes to the nozzle have improved structural performance under thermal and dynamic loads.

In other words, the company had made some design changes to the engine prior to launch, and these caused the hot spots that destroyed the nozzle.

The company’s email says it is fixing this issue and plans to launch “soon”, but issued no date.

Hubble spots long term seasonal changes on Uranus

Uranus as seen by Hubble in 2014 and 2022
Click for original image.

Using images of Uranus taken eight years apart by the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have detected significant seasonal changes in the atmosphere of the gas giant, caused by its unusual sideways rotation.

The two pictures to the left, realigned and reduced to post here, show the changes. If you look closely you can see the planet’s ring system and its shift to almost face on at present.

[top] — This is a Hubble view of Uranus taken in 2014, seven years after northern spring equinox when the Sun was shining directly over the planet’s equator, and shows one of the first images from the OPAL program. Multiple storms with methane ice-crystal clouds appear at mid-northern latitudes above the planet’s cyan-tinted lower atmosphere. Hubble photographed the ring system edge-on in 2007, but the rings are seen starting to open up seven years later in this view. At this time, the planet had multiple small storms and even some faint cloud bands.

[bottom] — As seen in 2022, Uranus’ north pole shows a thickened photochemical haze that looks similar to the smog over cities. Several little storms can be seen near the edge of the polar haze boundary. Hubble has been tracking the size and brightness of the north polar cap and it continues to get brighter year after year. Astronomers are disentangling multiple effects – from atmospheric circulation, particle properties, and chemical processes – that control how the atmospheric polar cap changes with the seasons. At the Uranian equinox in 2007, neither pole was particularly bright.

To really understand the long term climate of Uranus will likely take centuries, since its year lasts 84 Earth years. Since the beginning of space exploration, we have only had now about forty years of good imagery of the planet, and even that has been sporadic and very incomplete.

Sierra Space pops another inflatable test space station module

Proposed Orbital Reef space station
Proposed Orbital Reef space station

Sierra Space announced yesterday that it had successfully completed its fourth test to failure of a one-third scale prototype inflatable space station module, dubbed LIFE, with work on the full scale module expected to begin next year and leading to the launch of its private commercial space station sometime later this decade.

In February, Sierra Space performed a month-long Accelerated Systematic Creep (ASC) test on LIFE – the first milestone in its 2023 testing campaign. Engineers loaded a one-third-scale version of the inflatable habitat with a sustained amount of pressure over an extended period until it failed. Per NASA’s recommended guidelines for inflatable softgoods certification, the test reached its goal of generating an additional data point – pressure and time to burst – which can be used to estimate the life of the primary pressure shell structure.

“Our testing campaign has demonstrated that our LIFE habitat pressure shell design has a predicted life of far greater than 60 years – or 525,600 hours – based on Sierra Space’s 15-year on-orbit life requirement and the applied 4x safety factor,” said Sierra Space Chief Engineer for LIFE, Shawn Buckley. “We are obviously simulating pressures well in excess of the norm.”

You can view video of the test here. The failure was so intense that it also blew up the test shack.

Sierra Space is part of a partnership with Blue Origin and others to build the Orbital Reef space station, one of four such stations with contracts with NASA. Sierra Space is building the station’s modules, while Boeing is providing the Starliner capsule for transportation. Blue Origin is supposed be providing larger modules and the New Glenn rocket for transportation, but the development of both continues to lag.

Starliner’s first manned mission to ISS delayed again

According to a tweet by a NASA official, the first manned mission to ISS of Boeing’s Starliner capsule, carrying two NASA astronauts, has been delayed again, from the planned late April launch to sometime during the summer.

No reasons for the delay were given, as yet. The second link notes however that a schedule conflict at ULA, which is launching Starliner on its Atlas-5 rocket, might be part of the reason.

A launch in late April [of Starliner on the Atlas-5] would have put it in conflict with the inaugural launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, currently scheduled for as soon as May 4. Vulcan and Atlas use the same launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and ULA has been conducting tests of the Vulcan rocket on that pad. It has not shared updates on the status of the Atlas 5 used for Starliner.

This conflict might also explain why Starliner itself has not yet been fueled, since Boeing officials have said they want to do this within 60 days of launch to avoid the same kind of valve leaks that delayed the second unmanned demo mission for almost a year.

Starliner itself is years behind schedule, a long delay that has cost Boeing an enormous amount of income. First, the problems during the first unmanned demo flight in December 2019 forced the company to do a second unmanned demo flight, on its own dime costing about $400 million. That second flight was then delayed because of those valve issues. All the delays next cost Boeing income from NASA, as the agency was forced to purchase many manned flights from SpaceX that it had intended to buy from Boeing.

Rocket Lab and SpaceX successfully launch

There were two launches since yesterday, both American, both launching commercial satellites.

First, Rocket Lab put two Black Sky commercial Earth observation smallsats into orbit, using its Electron rocket launching from New Zealand. This was Rocket Lab’s second launch in less than a week.

Next, SpaceX put 56 Starlink satellites into orbit, launching from Cape Canaveral. The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage completed its 10th flight, landing successfully in a drone ship in the Atlantic.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

20 SpaceX
11 China
5 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 23 to 11 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 23 to 18. SpaceX in turn trails the entire world combined, including American companies, by only 20 to 21.

Where the flood lava of two gigantic Martian volcanoes meet

Where the flood lava of two gigantic Martian volcanoes meet
Click for original image.

Today’s cool image illustrates once again the importance of looking not simply at the picture but at the surrounding larger context in order to understand the Martian features within the photograph.

The photo to the left, cropped, reduced, and sharpened to post here, was taken on January 31, 2023 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The location is at 26 north latitude, so it is in the dry equatorial regions. It shows what appears to be a large Martian flood lava plain, with at least two different flood lava events appearing to flow to the northeast, with the second only partly covering the first.

From this high resolution image it seemed probable that the source of the flow was from the southwest, an assumption that at first glance is strengthened by the overview map below.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Black DEI administrator fired by college for demanding accuracy and color-blind policies

Tabia Lee
Tabia Lee

They’re coming for you next: Tabia Lee, the faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Education [OESE] at De Anza College in California, was denied tenure and fired from her job when she repeatedly demanded historical accuracy and color-blind policies from both her department and the rest of the college.

“Historical accuracy and color-blind policies” from a modern college run by leftists? It is to laugh.

Tabia Lee is a black woman who had been an adjunct professor at De Anza when she got the job to run part of the OESE department.

After years of working as a middle-school teacher and an adjunct professor, and founding a network to help minority teachers attain national board certification, Lee was excited get a tenure-track position at De Anza, where her job includes designing workshops to promote inclusion. “I researched them, and I thought we had similar values around diversity, equity and anti-racism,” she said. “I was selected, and I was like, wow, this is a dream come true.”

Instead, Lee found herself constantly harassed and slandered because she tried to bring to her work an even-handed philosophy that attempted to deal with the problems of racial conflict fairly. For example, when Jewish students and faculty members told her they had experienced anti-Semitism on campus, Lee tried to organize a campus event to discuss the problem.
» Read more

Ingenuity completes 48th flight on Mars

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

On March 21, 2023 the Mars helicopter Ingenuity successfully completed its 48th flight on Mars, flying 1,305 feet for 149.9 seconds with a top altitude of 39 feet. As has now become routine on all the recent flights, the distance and time in the air exceeded slightly the planned amounts, probably because Ingenuity needed slightly more time to find a good landing spot.

The link provides a very short movie created from images looking down during the flight.

The map to the right provides the context. The green dot and line indicates Ingenuity’s new position and flight path respectively. The blue dot marks Perseverance’s present location, a spot the mission planners had previously targeted as a prime place for obtaining core samples. The red dotted line shows the rover’s planned route.

Since the science team is now using Ingenuity for scouting purposes, its turn towards the rim of Belva Crater suggests they are considering this detour for Perseverance as well.

NASA engineers continue to struggle to save the Flashlight lunar probe

In an update today, NASA reports that engineers continue to troubeshoot the failure of the experimental thrusters on the Lunar Flashlight cubesat, in an effort to improvise a way to get the probe into lunar orbit.

Shortly after launch on Dec. 11, 2022, the operations team for NASA’s Lunar Flashlight determined that three of the four CubeSat’s thrusters were underperforming. This cast doubt on whether the mission could complete its stretch science goal of detecting surface ice at the Moon’s South Pole. After analyzing the situation, team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Georgia Tech arrived at a creative maneuvering technique that would use the one fully-functioning thruster to get into planned orbit. But when attempting the modified maneuvers in January, that thruster also experienced a rapid loss in performance and the team determined that Lunar Flashlight would likely be unable to reach its planned near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon.

After further troubleshooting, the operations team has been working on ways to restore partial operation of one or more thrusters to keep the spacecraft within the Earth-Moon system. They have had some success but continue to try new things to clear the suspected obstructions in the thruster fuel lines. They have until the end of April to generate the required thrust to preserve the opportunity to allow for monthly flybys of the lunar South Pole.

Though it increasingly appears Lunar Flashlight will not make lunar orbit, the mission is not a failure, since it was first and foremost an engineering mission testing a variety of new cubesat technologies, including the failed thrusters. Their failure and the efforts by engineers to recover them is important data for developing better cubesat thrusters on future such planetary probes.

SpaceX might get investment capital from Saudi and UAE investors

According to several reports in the business press, SpaceX is presently negotiating with investment companies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to possibly provide additional investment capital to the company.

Citing two individuals reportedly familiar with the matter, The Information noted that Saudi Arabia’s Water and Electricity Holding Company, Badeel, and the United Arab Emirates’ Alpha Dhabi are participating in the funding round. Morgan Stanley is reportedly organizing the investment effort.

At present it is unknown how much would be invested. It is also unclear if this foreign investment in an American rocket company can pass muster with the U.S. State Department.

SpaceX has already raised about $10 billion in private investment capital as well as $4 billion from NASA for the development of Starship/Superheavy.

Italy funds development by Avio of smallsat rocket and methane engine

In a move that might eventually separate Italy from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Arianespace commercial division, the Italian government on March 13, 2023 announced that it has committed $308 million to the Italian company Avio to develop both a methane-fueled engine and the smallsat rocket to go with it.

The money will be used by Avio on two projects, one to develop an upgraded version of its M10 methane-fueled engine that has already completed two dozen static fire tests, and the other to develop the smallsat rocket, with a targeted first launch in 2026.

While the investment is officially in partnership with the ESA, its wholly-Italian nature suggests in the end it will not be part of Arianespace, but function as an independent competing rocket operated and owned by Avio, which is also the company that developed Arianespace’s Vega family of rockets.

If Italy allows Avio to pull free of ESA and operate as a separate competing rocket company, it will do Europe a favor. Right now the monopolistic nature of ESA is preventing it from competing successfully in the new commercial launch market. Having separately owned and competing private companies will only energize this European industry, which has generally been moribund for years.

First set of SpaceX’s second generation Starlink satellites experiencing issues

According to a tweet from Elon Musk yesterday, the first set of 21 larger second generation Starlink satellites, launched on February 27, 2023 by a Falcon 9 rocket, have experiencing “some issues.”

Some sats will be deorbited, others will be tested thoroughly before raising altitude above Space Station.

More information here.

Starting around March 15, their orbital altitude started to decrease at varying rates: most gradually, but at least two more steeply, descending to about 365 kilometers. All 21 remain in orbit, but that unusual behavior prompted speculation of problems with the satellites.

The second set of new Starlink satellites is scheduled for launch no earlier than March 30, 2023, but expect that launch to be delayed in order for SpaceX engineers to troubleshoot these issues and then apply what they have learned on the new satellites.

Russia launches military satellite

Using its Soyuz-2 rocket, Russia today launched a classified military satellite into orbit, lifting off from its Plesetsk spaceport in northern Russia.

The rocket flew north over the Arctic, with its first and second stages falling into the ocean.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

19 SpaceX
11 China
5 Russia
2 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China in launches 21 to 11 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 21 to 18. SpaceX now trails the entire world combined, including American companies, 19 to 20.

Second stage on Relativity’s first launch fails to fire

The first test launch of Relativity’s 3D rocket, Terran-1, achieved the mission’s minimum goals, with the first stage performing exactly as planned and the 3D-printed rocket successfully completing engine cut-off and stage separation.

At that point the second stage engine failed to fire, and the upper stage fell into the ocean.

I have embedded the live stream from last night below. The company had made it clear that their number one goal for this flight was getting that 3D-printed rocket through max-q, the time when the atmospheric pressures on the rocket are their greatest. In this area the launch was a success.

This was also the first American launch of a methane-fueled rocket, and it was fascinating seeing the difference in the rocket’s plumes from other fuel types. Terran-1’s engine plumes were a clear distinct blue, quite different from the white and smokey plumes produced by solid-fueled and kerosene-fueled rocket engines, and the almost invisible plume of space shuttle’s hydrogen-fueled engines.

As yet, no methane-fueled rocket has reached orbit, though two Chinese companies and Relativity have tried. SpaceX will try itself when it launches Superheavy/Starship.
» Read more

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